My Dissociative Identity Disorder
Trigger warning: Talk of d*ssociation, ab*use, tra*ma
I have written about my Dissociative Identity Disorder before, but mostly in connection to my relationship and my sex life. The topic for this week on Sex Bloggers for Mental Health is Dissociation and I contributed with a guest post on dissociation in the form of derealisation and depersonalisation. I struggle with dissociation in its many forms, but I am more on the severe end of the scale. But apart from daily bouts of derealisation, I also have Dissociative Identity Disorder, which is in a totally different ballpark. I want to write about my Dissociative Identity Disorder today: how I discovered it, what caused it, and what it actually means for me.
What is Dissociative Identity Disorder?
Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is a totally different experience from dissociation as a symptom of C-PTSD, PTSD, anxiety, depression or personality disorders. Someone who has DID can have derealisation and depersonalisation too, and other co-morbid conditions. But they don’t have to. So the dissociation that many people experience is not the same that is related to DID.
DID (previously known as multiple personality disorder) is a covert illness. So if you think it is superobvious and you could spot someone with it, you are wrong. The condition is a way for the brain to protect the body and the mind, and to be able for that to work, it needs to not be found out. That makes sense, right? As a matter of fact, most people with DID are not even aware that they have the condition until much later in life. They might become more conscious that their memory of their childhood is spotty, that they are losing time or those close to them tell them about their odd behaviour that they can’t recall.
For DID to develop, a child needs to experience trauma before the age of 7 or 8. During that trauma, the brain decides that dissociation is the best coping strategy to handle the traumatic situation. That happens when all other responses (fight, flight and freeze), don’t work. This is often the case with complex, long-term abuse involving a caretaker person in the child’s life. The traumatic experience is so overwhelming, that the brain stores it neatly inside a part of itself that the child doesn’t have access to.
The brain starts compartmentalizing memories. That compartmentalized experience becomes a trauma holder, and a personality/identity by itself. It is created because of the trauma, and it is the part of the child that comes out when similar trauma happens again. So the child has now two parts: the functioning part, and the coping part that holds the memory and can handle a certain kind of distress, but also holds the pain of what has happened.
The more different traumas happen, the more parts are being created. Those parts are all part of a system, and they all have different roles. And the more the brain is used to compartmentalize traumatic experiences, the more parts are being created. They can handle distress, or they hold the memories of the trauma. This happens so the body and mind as a whole can survive and continue to function. Those parts are often called alters or headmates. And they are part of a system, meaning they are all inside a bubble where they co-exist together.
The host (the person mostly being out and fronting =interacting with the world) often doesn’t even know that they are part of a system, or they have no recollection of trauma. Child alters (those who are stuck in the age when they are created, very common type of alter), are called littles. There are many different roles that alters can have within the system, some of the most common ones are called protectors. Alters can have different ages, genders, skills, likes and dislikes. They are basically their own person, but they are all sharing one body. No system is like any other system. When one alter pushes to the front and tries to interact the world and you are being pushed to the back, it is called a switch.
My Dissociative Identity Disorder
I was 36 years old when I realized that I have a system, and I got diagnosed with DID. A lot of times I still question the validity of my symptoms, because I can’t recall much of my childhood. I don’t remember much of what has happened to me. I get flashbacks, yes, but it is not me that it is experiencing those. Well, all I can say is that DID is very confusing.
When I became aware
I became aware of that there is no I but a we, in 2018. A traumatic incident happened, which was the result of months of gaslighting. I lost the purpose in my life, and it felt like everything had been taken away from me. I was working as the ambassador of a huge emotional health company, that provided free emotional support through active listening. But I got removed from my roles due to the actions and lies of others. I didn’t stand up for myself, instead I thought that I should handle it professionally.
I made the wrong choice by staying patient and silent. The day I got removed from my roles, something dramatic happened in me. And the interesting thing is that there is actually evidence of it. I switched in the email to my boss, basically going from my professional role to being a protector and extremely angry.
The weeks after were hell for me. Z (the one who had the job) was broken and disappeared. So I was stuck in anxiety, suicidality, self-harm, self-blame and dissociation. And terrible flashbacks of past abuse. One night I was in a Skype call with my partner and I was gone, like, I was so disconnected and dissociated that I couldn’t even speak. My mind was floating somewhere else.
But suddenly there were thoughts that weren’t mine, feelings that weren’t mine. I could sense, hear them somehow. I freaked out and thought I had gone psychotic now. And I couldn’t push myself out of the floaty state. Then the mouth started talking. Only. I wasn’t talking? It was a very confusing and scary experience. I tried to listen to the thoughts, sense the feelings, and listen to what was being said. I was in tbe backseat of the car that is my body, and somebody else was driving.
The one driving was a protector, a calm and sensible protector. He told my partner that there is a system, and that I need to be made aware so we can survive. Apparently, I was the host, and I was new, and needed to make sure that the right decisions for survival were being made.
I know, I know. All this sounds nuts. And fucking hell, it was crazy. Fortunately my partner knew what DID was and took it all in without judgment or questioning the protector. I talked to my psychiatrist about it the next day and she didn’t doubt me either but instead said that all my hehaviour makes so much more sense now. I am still diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 2, C-PTSD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. And now Dissociative Identity Disorder as well.
Being the Host
It is all very confusing, I know. I have to live with this on a daily basis. And I need to live with that I am just an alter in a system. I am not alone in this mind, or this body. I am forced to be the host because I can function. But I very often wish that I was alone, and that I wasn’t plural.
I am new. That means that I first came into existence when the host at the time (Z) went into hiding. I have the skills to make sensible decisions that make sure that most needs are met and we are getting through difficult times. I don’t always make the right decisions, and I am not always strong. But when someone outside our safe circle communicates with the body, it is mostly me driving, or being close enough to the front that I can take over when needed.
I don’t hold much of my childhood memories. There have been signs that we are a system for a long long time. And I know that I/we display behaviour that is a very telling result of childhood abuse. I have been aware of the emotional and physical abuse, but there are way way more memories about sexual abuse and child prostitution. See, when those memories pop up in my mind, they seem like I am watching a movie of someone else’s life. I don’t have any emotional connection to that memory.
I know logically that someone else inside the system is having those memories and has been through those experiences, but I still sometimes doubt it all. Sometimes I think I am just a sick person making it all up. I sometimes think that I am just a fraud pretending to switch, to be just plural. That it is all lies.
But, if it were all lies, wouldn’t I know it were? Wouldn’t I be the one planning and telling those lies? And why would I lie? I don’t want to have DID. I don’t even talk to a lot of people about it, and I don’t want the attention I get for it. Still. I end up in thoughts of denial and self-doubt all the damn time.
Our system consists of about 30 alters. Many of them are trauma holders from childhood and they are stuck in that age. That means, there are many children in our system, and quite a lot of teens too. And ever since I have been made aware of the system, it all fell apart and couldn’t be ignored anymore, I am constantly switching. Switching means that another alter decides to front and interact with the world, and more often than not, I can’t do anything about it. I spend a lot of hours of the day in the backseat, watching a little, a child, interact with the world. I can sense their feelings and thoughts, but I can’t intervene. The parts in our system are (they all have names but I feel uncomfortable sharing them; there might be more parts that we are not aware of yet):
A 3 year old who only speaks German and is very sad.
A 4 year old that holds a lot of trauma and guilt for not protecting our sister well enough.
A 5 year old who thinks she is a fairy and has wings.
A 5 year old who is out a lot, and needs a lot of attention. She holds most of the first sexual abuse memories, but also also a lot of emotional abuse memories. And is angry at the 4 year old for not protecting our sister. Often suicidal.
A 6 year old who only thinks that outside is safe, and hates being at home, because home is scary. Very scared of my father and adult men.
A 6 year old that has one coping strategy only: freezing and not being able to move, waiting for death in a frozen state; a coping alter from sexual trauma
A 7 year old that is a protector of the little ones and often comes out and pretends to be them when she feels it can become dangerous or painful for the others
Another 7 year old that is a pleaser and fawns a lot. Wants to always make sure that we don’t get scolded for not being good; holds a lot of emotional and physical trauma
An 8 year old who is very sexual. She holds a lot of sexual trauma and gets inappropriate a lot, and thinks she can make bad things go away if she is available and offers sex
A 9 year old who is superplayful, holds no trauma but knows everything about the system; likes to bite for some reason
A 10/11 year old that is suicidal, self-harming, and often comes out during flashbacks. All we feel from her is darkness and pain. She only speaks Swedish at this point.
A 12 year old that is funny, shy and doesn’t have a lot of confidence. Kind of sneaky because she doesn’t make herself known.
Another younger teen we don’t know much about.
A 15 year old who is very punky and fuck it all. She is bold, angry, and doesn’t give much of a shit. She can be tamed though.
A young adult who is extremely sexual and very much about shallow things like make-up, clothes. And is our music guru. She doesn’t have a lot of confidence.
A young adult who fucks everything up all the time. Wants to die, hurt herself, smash the apartment. You name it. A very strong trauma holder.
A 20 something who was the host for over 10 years. Romantic but asexual. A caretaker type person who is very good at planning, time management, getting things done.
An adult who is our intellectual guru. Knows so much, holds all our education.
Another adult we know almost nothing about. Very silent and confused.
The emotional caretaker, the adult who is most professional and held the position as the ambassador.
A very sexually angry adult in her late 20s. Barely out and doesn’t remember much of her surroundings when fronting.
Me, the host.
A calm and logical version of me, who knows how to do mindfulness and to ground us.
A grandmother type of person who is very much into children and is sad that we don’t have any.
A calm protector who keeps the memories at bay and can calm the system down when we are in danger of ourselves.
A very angry protector who attacks those that try to attack us.
What is it like?
We have a very vivid innerworld. Inside our mind, especially when in self-hypnosis, we see a house that we share, where everyone has their own room. We sense each other’s presences, feelings, thoughts, needs and wants. If possible, of course. I don’t share the memories of others, and they might not share my memories. I actually don’t remember much from my childhood trauma at all. Those memories are other alters’ memories. So there is amnesia about the past between alters.
I don’t lose time as much, but we don’t always have a total recollection of what has been going on throughout the day. There is a lot of blurriness, and there aren’t always clear details. So we have amnesia about every day events, but not always to the extreme. One example for that could be that we (the body) leave the house. Being outside the house feels often unsafe for us. So what happens is that, while walking with our partner, different alters come out and ask where we are going. It could be literally ten times the question: where are we going? – It is because they were not conscious or co-conscious (watching what is going on) when we decided to leave the house. So confusing!
Having DID makes it difficult to take care of yourself, because there are so many different needs that are waiting to be met. Just picking what to wear, what to eat, what to do, can become an ordeal. But the thing that I find most frustrating is that it makes it almost impossible to have close friends. Because who would even understand? And if they did, would they be friends with everyone in the system? If not, what about the alters that don’t have friends, shouldn’t their needs matter too? It just seems safer to not connect to other people on a deeper level.
Dissociation can take on a lot of forms, and it is on a spectrum. Some people might experience dissociation once in their life, during a traumatic event. Others have dissociation as a symptom of a mental illness, and yet others have a dissociative condition. I experience both dissociation as a symptom, and have a dissociative disorder. I basically spend my life in a fog, where everything around me is a blur and I am expected to function in a reality I can barely reach.